Author's note: since my Goa'uld-English translator is on the blink this week, pretend with me that the italic words in this colour are in Goa'uld. ;-)
A finger to his lips indicating the need for silence, Jack peered around the corner, gun held at the ready while checking for the temple's inhabitants. Finding nothing but an empty chamber, he gestured for the members of his team to proceed across it to the corridor on the other side. "This way. Let's go," he hissed.
Sam took point, grabbing Daniel's sleeve on her way past and quickly pulling the scientist along with her. Teal'c looked to O'Neill for a brief moment, nodding his head once in acknowledgment of the order before he strode after Sam and Daniel. Covering his team's escape, Jack gave the chamber one last look before he bolted after his friends.
As SG-1 ducked down the wide hallway, they came face to face with three helmeted guards. Sam snapped her weapon up, calling worriedly, "Colonel."
Grimacing, Jack flipped off his weapon's safety. "I see them, Captain. On your toes, people."
One of the guards stepped forward. The colonel guessed he must be the leader of the group by his officious attitude. His suspicions were confirmed as the man pointed at their guns and barked out an order.
Jack looked to Daniel, one eyebrow raised in question.
Quickly translating for the colonel, Daniel answered, "They want us to lower our weapons."
"What a surprise," Jack muttered. "Looks like a Mexican standoff. We can kill them just as easily as they can kill us."
As Daniel opened his mouth to inform the guards of that fact, a door slid open, and four more Jaffa burst into the corridor. Weapons raised, ready to fire, they took up positions surrounding SG-1.
Again, the guard gestured, his low, guttural voice echoing through the corridor.
"Let me guess. He wants us to lower our guns, but this time he isn't asking so nicely."
Daniel nodded grimly. "Something like that."
Sam and Teal'c looked to O'Neill, waiting for his order. If he commanded, they would open fire on the guards and make the attempt to escape. Jack saw the determination in the eyes of his teammates, realizing they would fight until the end if he gave the word. Knowing his people as well as he did, he couldn't casually sacrifice them for such a slim chance to escape.
Reluctantly, his frustration evident in the set of his jaw, Jack flipped the safety on and lowered his gun, placing it on the floor at his feet. Sam and Teal'c followed his lead. Daniel carefully placed his handgun on the floor with the other weapons.
Two guards stepped forward and retrieved the firepower, arms laden with the earth weapons as they hurried out of the chamber.
"My horoscope said today was going to be a bad day," Jack muttered as two more guards approached and grabbed his arms. "I shoulda listened and stayed in bed."
Roughly, the foursome was frog-marched down a long series of passages that headed deep into the ancient temple. The farther the team was taken from the entrance, the narrower the corridors became. Glancing upward, Jack suppressed a shudder at the thought of the weight of all the stone above him. Now was not the time to discover he'd developed a sudden case of claustrophobia.
Pausing beside a gilded wall, the leader reached out and pressed a gaudily painted raised panel. With a low rumble, a narrow door slid open, and the team was shoved through.
As they entered the room, the members of SG-1 couldn't help but stare. The dark, low had given no hints as to what was revealed to them. Inside the surprisingly high, vaulted chamber was a raised dais. Two elaborately decorated thrones rested in the center of the platform, surrounded by rich, embroidered tapestries depicting the planet's bloody history. Light glinted off large golden cartouches bearing hieroglyphs. Jack had a sudden feeling of deja vu as he studied the ornate room.
The team was pulled into a line before the dais and forced to kneel on the stone floor. O'Neill winced as the cartilage in his knee crunched noisily, sending a flare of pain up his leg. "Why do they always do that?" he growled rhetorically.
As soon as the humans were settled into position, the guards backed a step but held their staff weapons at the ready. Jack took a quick look around, assessing their situation before he turned to check on his team. To his surprise, Daniel's expression was one of rapt attention as he studied the large cartouches on the walls. O'Neill shook his head, rolling his eyes in a silent plea for patience. Trust Daniel to forget the immediate danger they were in, focusing instead on the latest great mystery of the universe. "Daniel, can you read those inscriptions on the walls?" Without looking at Jack, the scientist nodded. "Great. Can you tell who the ruling bigwig is?"
Another slow nod. "Yes. It's Apophis."
At Jack's questioning look, Teal'c nodded. "I concur."
Sam piped up, "You're kidding, right? These guys aren't wearing serpent helmets."
Daniel slipped into lecture mode, his soft voice carrying to his companion's ears and no farther. "Apophis was Ra's chief rival. From what Teal'c told me, they ruled over an almost equal number of inhabited planets. Now that Ra is gone, Apophis would step in and claim the other worlds as his own."
A loud, tinny blast from some kind of horn echoed through the chamber, forestalling Jack's reply. The guards snapped to attention as another door appeared behind the raised stage.
"Uh oh. Company," Jack whispered to the others.
"Quiet," the closest guard snapped, raising his hand in a threatening gesture.
"Sorry," Jack responded, his sarcastic tone a clear indication he wasn't sorry at all. "You could ask nicely." The force of the unexpected blow rocked Jack's head back and sent stars dancing before his eyes.
"I said quiet."
Glaring, the colonel raised a hand to rub at his stinging cheek. Taunting the guard with his need to get the last word in, he said agreeably, "All right. I'll be quiet."
As the guard moved to hit him again, Apophis stepped out of the open door, striding purposefully toward his throne. The guard snapped to attention, saving the colonel from another vicious slap. Jack breathed a quiet sigh of relief at the distraction.
Apophis rounded the back of the ornate chair, his eyes resting on his prisoners. By the sudden feral gleam in his eyes, O'Neill could tell the false god recognized them. That shouldn't have been difficult, Jack knew; they'd certainly crossed paths enough times for the man to identify them on sight.
Seating himself on his throne, Apophis turned his infuriatingly smug smile on his captives. "We meet again."
"We find your company so enlightening we just can't seem to stay away," Jack said, an insincere grin crossing his face.
Apophis arched an eyebrow, pinning O'Neill with an angry glare. "I can assure you I do not find your company as pleasant."
Deliberately pushing the god's buttons, Jack continued in the same light tone, "But you haven't even gotten to know us."
"You do not know how, or when, to give up."
Jack's smile was almost -- almost -- as condescending as the god's. "That's because you've got a couple of things that belong to us."
The darkly-handsome man waved one hand in a dismissive gesture. "Everything you see before you is mine. Including you." The god rose from his throne, his tall, willowy body as lithe as a cat's, and strutted toward the door. Almost as an afterthought, Apophis turned to his guards, pointing at the foursome. "Kill them." His eyes lingered on Teal'c, raking the traitor with his stare. "Slowly."
The Jaffa moved to comply, roughly dragging the foursome to their feet as the god made his way across the wide dais.
Struggling against the rough hands holding him, Daniel watched the god cross the throne platform. Hoping against hope Apophis had brought his queen to this world, Daniel ignored his mind's urge for caution. Taking a deep breath to muster his courage, he called out, "Apophis!"
Jack and Sam couldn't believe the vehemence in the scientist's tone, turning to stare at their teammate in shock.
Smirking, Apophis paused, his hand on the elaborate entry plate as he faced his captives again. He pinned Daniel in place with his look; the archaeologist's mind flashed back to the memory of a similar confrontation with another god. Apophis' expression was so like the one Ra had worn when he explained his plan to send the Naquadah-enhanced nuclear bomb back to earth: a mixture of arrogance, cruel humour, and rage. "I do not show mercy to my enemies. Especially those as troublesome as you."
Daniel squared his shoulders, glaring back at the god. "I do not ask for mercy. I demand to see my wife."
As he heard the softly-accented words, Jack's jaw dropped in surprise. "Daniel, what the hell are you doing? What are you saying to him?"
Ignoring O'Neill's outburst, Apophis arched one perfectly-groomed eyebrow at Daniel's use of the old tongue. "You are full of surprises." He studied the man before him with vague interest. "Your wife? I am unfamiliar with that word."
"My mate. The woman who is your Queen."
Comprehension slowly dawned and the god laughed heartily. "Foolish child. Is that why you have pursued me?"
"That is one reason, yes".
Voice dropping to a warning growl, Jack glared at his teammate through the exchange. "Daniel . . . ."
The slender scientist didn't spare the team leader a glance. "Be quiet, Jack. I know what I'm doing."
Outrage clouded Jack's face. "Excuse me? Did you just tell me to be quiet? What are you up to, Daniel?"
Annoyed by Jack's interruptions, Apophis gestured to one of his guards. Seconds later, pain shot through O'Neill's head and he was suddenly sprawled on the floor, once again seeing stars.
"Colonel," Sam cried, trying to break free of the hands gripping her arms. "You all right?"
Rubbing the back of his head, Jack woozily sat up. "Stand down, Captain. I'm okay."
Continuing as if the interruption hadn't occurred, Apophis spoke to Daniel. "The Goa'uld my Queen carries is in control of the body she inhabits. What you knew of her is no more."
Closing his eyes, afraid that what Apophis said was true, Daniel whispered, "I don't care. I have to see her." I have to see her once more before I die, his mind clarified.
The golden god gestured to two of his guards. "Bring him. This one amuses me."
"The others, my Lord Apophis?"
"Hold them until we return. They will die together."
As the guards released their hold, Jack turned to Apophis, his expression wary. Sam and Teal'c were freed as well, but the heavily armed guards in the immediate area prevented any thoughts of escape. The team watched in concern as two other Jaffa grabbed Daniel's arms and escorted him away, ushering the archaeologist toward the same door Apophis had gone through.
A tight knot of fear gripping his belly, Jack demanded, "Daniel, where are they taking you?"
"To see Sha're," Daniel called over his shoulder as the guards shoved him through the opening.
Watching the door roll shut behind his friend, Jack couldn't shake the ominous feeling it was the last glimpse of Daniel he would ever have.
Daniel's escorts brought him to a room which was even more ornate than the reception hall. He wouldn't have thought it possible, but compared to this room, the outer chamber was shabby, almost drab. Forcing his wandering thoughts back to the events at hand, Daniel dropped to his knees before the guards had a chance to force him down to the floor. He'd been through the drill enough times to know how to save himself a little discomfort.
Apophis was seated on a plush divan, his gaze focused on the human as he was brought before the false god. One delicate hand rearranged the elaborate linen kilt he wore, smoothing nonexistent wrinkles from the fabric as he contemplated the man before him. "Are you afraid?"
Daniel blinked once at the odd question. "Yes."
Apophis smiled, lowering his gaze to examine a manicured hand. "That is good," he said, pleased by the honesty of the response. "I am granting your request. My First Prime has gone to bring my Queen."
Despite being in danger, isolated from his friends and acutely aware of how vulnerable his position was, Daniel's polite nature surfaced, and he smiled gratefully. "Thank you."
Apophis inclined his head at the courteous response. "Do you know why I am being so generous?"
Truthfully, Daniel had no idea why the god was allowing him to see Sha're, and he said as much. "No, I don't."
"Your spirit intrigues me. You will find, however, what you wish for is not what you will receive." The god's eyes glowed malevolently. "My Queen will see you, then she will kill you. I will throw your lifeless body at your friends' feet before I kill them."
Swallowing hard, Daniel locked eyes with Apophis, trying desperately not to show the fear gripping him in a vicelike hold.
A slight movement registered in his peripheral vision, and Daniel broke eye contact with his captor to glance in that direction. With a quiet scraping sound, a door opened in the side wall, and Sha're swept into the room, followed by two serpent-helmeted guards. Nodding her respect to her mate, she took her place at Apophis' side and turned a questioning glance on the fair-haired man kneeling before them.
"You sent for me, my husband?"
Breath caught in Daniel's throat as the startling reality of the situation came crashing down around him. His Sha're would never have willingly called another 'husband'. Originally intended as a bribe to appease the exalted visitors to Abydos, she had given herself to Daniel, heart and soul, promising to love him and be his life's companion until she crossed over to the Hall of Truths. Perhaps what Apophis said was true: perhaps his wife, his soul mate, was truly lost to him.
With difficulty, the archaeologist dragged himself out of the sinking miasma of despair and focused on the Goa'ulds' conversation.
"I did. This prisoner demanded to see you."
Sha're's lovely face turned toward Daniel's once more. One eyebrow rose haughtily. "He did?"
"Do you recognize him, my Queen? He was your mate."
Daniel winced at the obviously taunting tone in the god's voice. Hands balling into fists at his side, it was all he could do not to throw himself at Apophis and beat the teasing sneer off his face.
"My mate? When?"
"Before you became a god."
Sha're turned to look at Daniel once more. Her eyes were inanimate, devoid of warmth and compassion as she studied him; he felt like a caged animal under her frosty regard.
The queen's voice reverberated with malevolent power. "I pity you. You cling to an illusion."
Daniel swallowed hard, turning pleading eyes on the woman, hating himself for feeling so desperate, for showing his weakness. "N-no. That can't be true. Sha're would fight you. She-she wants to come back to me."
Dark eyes blazed with an unearthly glow. "That is not so. None of the host survives after Goa'uld implantation. We are too strong for your weak minds to fight."
Luminous blue eyes closed against the all-too-vivid image of the mature Goa'uld tearing into his wife, an image which played nightly in his dreams, though he hadn't witnessed it first hand. "Nanay . . . ."
Enjoying the human's pain, Apophis prompted, "I do not think he believes you, my Queen. You must show him". He made a discreet motion with two fingers. Amaunet knew immediately what the god wanted. Gracefully rising to her feet, she descended the steps toward the prisoner.
Daniel's eyes flared with hope as the woman -- his life's love --- drew near. Despite Jack's heartfelt promise to the contrary, he hadn't thought he'd ever see her again. By the gods, she was beautiful, her lustrous, dark curls framing an exotic face, a face so delicately beautiful and full of spirit that at times he couldn't believe she was real, seemingly only a creation of his vivid imagination.
His heart aching from the sheer joy of looking at her, the archaeologist was caught up in her approach. Looking up into Shar'e's face, Daniel gasped as his gaze met hers. If it was true that eyes were the windows of the soul, then the hope of reaching his wife was quickly dashed. Sha're could never mask her emotions from Daniel; her beautiful eyes betrayed everything she was feeling to her husband. This stranger's eyes revealed nothing but a cold, calculated self-absorption.
The woman, Apophis' queen, paused before him. With a delicate wave of her hand, she ordered the guards away. The helmeted guards backed a couple of steps but remained within reach, ever vigilant as they protected Amaunet. Daniel smiled at the thought; as if he'd be able to overpower them and harm their queen. As if he would be foolish enough to try.
When Sha're brought her hand up, Daniel forced himself not to flinch. Instead of the expected blow, her soft, warm fingers touched his cheek, lightly tracing the contours of his face, smoothing a stray lock of sandy hair from his brow.
Daniel's blood ran cold when she spoke.
"He would make a pleasing host for our next son."
Apophis' eyes narrowed in anger. "He is not worth the effort. Proceed."
Nodding once, Sha're returned to the task her god had given her, looking into Daniel's wide eyes.
"Sha're?" he whispered, voice quivering with longing for her.
"I am not her. I am Amaunet," the queen snarled, swiftly bringing her right hand up. Light glinted off a shiny, metallic object; Daniel caught a quick glance of the device nestled against Sha're's palm before a sharp, white hot stab of pain centered in his forehead.
"Sha're, no . . . "
Sha're -- no, Amaunet, Daniel's mind corrected absently -- smiled coldly, enjoying the suffering she was inflicting on her helpless victim.
A strangled whimper escaped his lips as the queen continued her assault, the energy from her weapon visibly distorting the air in front of his face. Time ceased to exist; his world reduced to a ripple of air and energy and excruciating agony.
"Stop toying with him and finish it."
The queen Goa'uld looked to her mate, smiling cruelly. "As you wish."
Pain blasted through Daniel's head with renewed force. His eyes were half-closed, breath coming in short, hard gasps as he fought against the agony spreading through his body unchecked like a wildfire blazing across the prairies. As the assault continued, he found the capacity for rational thought was quickly leaving him. His consciousness centered around the pulse of white heat stabbing relentlessly through his head.
Abruptly, the pain eased, allowing the archaeologist a moment to catch his breath and regain his tenuous hold on consciousness. Dimly, as though from far away, a softly-accented voice whispered across raw nerve endings, "I am sorry, my Dan-yell."
Not daring to believe what his ears had heard, Daniel used the last of his strength to force his eyes open, staring up into the face towering above him. For a brief second Sha're -- his Sha're -- looked back at him, terrified brown eyes begging forgiveness. For a brief second Daniel had hope he would somehow survive.
In a voice which didn't sound like his own, he dragged out her name, "Sha're?"
His wife's face contorted with pain as she waged an internal battle with her parasitic invader to stop the Goa'uld's assault. Her body trembled, the shaking so violent that even in his weakened state Daniel could see the tremors gripping her. Despite Sha're's best efforts, though, Daniel sensed she was losing the fight. His fears were confirmed when brown eyes flew open and blazed with unholy light, breaking the last of Sha're's fragile control and allowing the Goa'uld to renew its attack. Daniel cried out as the weapon flashed, and the pain in his head increased.
As darkness ate into his vision, Daniel vaguely heard a commotion behind him. The sound of weapons echoed dimly in the chamber.
"Daniel! Hang on!"
Unable to turn his head or call out and acknowledge he'd heard Jack's frantic plea, unable to fight against the blinding pain any longer, Daniel surrendered to the welcome release of oblivion.
Jack, Sam and Teal'c, all armed with Goa'uld weapons they had liberated from Apophis' elite guard, burst into the receiving room.
The sight which greeted them wasn't reassuring: Daniel was on his knees, Sha're standing before him, draining his life away with a Goa'uld ribbon device.
"Daniel!" Swiftly raising the staff weapon, Jack fired at Apophis. The energy bolt arced above the false god's head, exploding against the bricks and sending a shower of debris skittering across the dais. "Let him go!"
"I will not."
Eyes narrowed in rage, Jack fired the weapon once more. The golden man dove behind his throne, evading the burst of energy.
"Daniel! Hang on!" Jack yelled to his friend, taking a threatening step toward Apophis.
"Colonel," Sam shouted in dismay as Daniel slumped bonelessly to the floor and lay still. Sha're stepped back, a satisfied smile on her face as she surveyed her handiwork.
"I see him, Captain." Jack aimed his staff at Apophis. From the man's earlier reaction, he obviously wasn't wearing his personal shield. "Let him go, and we'll leave you in peace."
Apophis' smile was triumphant. "You think you have won, but your friend is already dead."
Nodding grimly, face set in a stoic mask, Jack accepted the possibility they were too late to save their teammate. "That may be true, but we're going to take him back with us."
"Fools! You would risk your lives for a body?" Apophis threw his head back and laughed cruelly. "My guards will capture you. I will take great pleasure in killing you myself."
Observing the god's concentrated interest in her commanding officer, Sam made her move. Rushing forward, she rested the business end of her Zat gun up against Sha're's throat. "Apophis! Maybe this will make you think twice." Sam's finger caressed the trigger; with a metallic click, the jaws of the weapon snapped open and blue-white energy crackled from the opening. Amaunet turned frightened eyes on her husband.
Pleased by his subordinate's quick thinking, Jack nodded his approval at Sam. He turned to Apophis, grinning, "I think we'll take the little woman with us. Once we get to the Stargate, we'll let her go."
"Unacceptable!" Apophis barked. "How do I know you can be trusted?"
"How do you know we can't?" Jack fired back.
"If you harm her, I will destroy your world . . ." The false god let the threat hang between them.
"Once we get Daniel through the Stargate, we'll be out of your hair. So to speak," Jack amended with a sly grin, his eyes flicking to the cap the Goa'uld wore over his close cropped hair. "You have my word as a soldier."
Apophis paused to consider the promise, his gaze falling on the frightened queen. His expression softened at the naked fear etched into Amaunet's face. The Goa'uld gave a sharp nod, agreeing to the request.
"I knew you were a reasonable man, er, snake, Goa'uld, whatever," Jack beamed.
Sullenly, the god seethed, "You will pay for this."
Jack nodded at Teal'c, tilting his head toward the prone figure. "Oh, I'm sure we'll meet again, Pops. Now, if you wouldn't mind, call off your pet snakes."
Glaring, Apophis barked a command, and the guards backed off, allowing Teal'c to cross the chamber unchallenged. The Jaffa scooped Daniel up into his arms, exerting no more effort than he would lifting a child. With a gentleness that belied his large size, Teal'c carried Daniel to Jack's side. When Teal'c approached, the colonel spared a quick glance at the slender young man cradled against the Jaffa's chest. Daniel's pale, slack face was hidden by a long fringe of bangs. O'Neill resisted the urge to push his friend's unruly hair back; the brief look wasn't enough to determine if Daniel was alive, but Jack's main priority was to get his team to the Stargate and home to earth. Pushing his concern for Daniel to the back of his mind, Jack kept his weapon trained on Apophis and gestured for the rest of SG-1 to proceed to the ornate door.
Acknowledging the silent order, Carter took a firm grip on Sha're's arm, the other hand still holding the Zat gun against her throat, and forced her to walk toward the door.
As the humans made their escape, Apophis glared after them. He was quietly furious; his hands were clenched into fists, the knuckles white under dark skin as he watched his prisoners escape.
Crossing through the outer chamber and slipping into the corridor, Jack took stock of their situation. Finding no guards waiting to ambush them, the colonel turned to the Jaffa. "Lead the way, Teal'c." The team leader took up a rear-guard position behind the others as Teal'c unerringly making his way toward the Stargate.
Dragging Sha're along, Sam hurried to keep pace with Teal'c, practically running to match the Jaffa's long strides. Anxiously, she peered into Daniel's pale, bruised face. "How's he doing?"
Teal'c's eyes skimmed over the man in his arms. He could feel the faint rise and fall of Daniel's chest as he breathed; it was the only outward sign the archaeologist still clung to life. Grimly, the Jaffa announced, "He is alive."
As she studied Daniel's face again, Sam's quiet voice betrayed her worry. "He doesn't look very good. Do you think we can get him home in time?"
"Apophis' queen has severely injured him," Teal'c acknowledged, his dark eyes glancing into Sam's. "I have not seen many survive such an assault."
Renewing her struggle against Carter's firm grip, Sha're hissed, "And you will suffer the same fate if you do not let me go."
Glaring, the captain tightened her hold on the slim arm. "Nobody asked for your opinion."
Leading his teammates down a long corridor, Teal'c said, "The Stargate is up ahead."
Jack took a wary look behind him. "We're clear this way. Watch for an ambush inside the 'gate room, kids."
Pushing Sha're in front of her, Sam entered the 'gate room, her eyes sweeping the chamber looking for signs of a set up. Relieved that Apophis hadn't sent his guards ahead to intercept them, Sam dragged the queen with her to the DHD and punched in earth's address. As the last symbol locked in place the Stargate burst to life, filling the empty chamber with a bright, blue-white light.
Tucking the Zat gun under one arm, Carter activated the team's remote transmitter. "We're clear, sir."
Jack nodded, gesturing to Teal'c to lead the way. "Go."
Without waiting for further invitation, the Jaffa mounted the steps and crossed to the metal ring, carrying his precious burden to the event horizon. He stepped through the energy barrier and disappeared.
Jack joined Sam and Sha're at the bottom of the stone stairs leading to the 'gate platform. The queen struggled against Sam's grasp, arrogantly demanding, "Release me. My Pharaoh has kept his end of the bargain."
Jack silenced her with a dark glance. "Don't get your pantyhose in a knot, your worshipfulness. We'll let you go when it's safe for us to do so." 'When Teal'c and Daniel have made it safely home,' Jack silently amended.
"Sir, should we take her with us? She'd have to be locked up until we can find a way to remove the Goa'uld," Carter pondered, casting an appraising glance at the struggling woman.
"If we could access her genetic memory, it could be what we need to gain the upper hand," Jack agreed with Sam's assessment of Sha're's strategic usefulness.
O'Neill paused, studying the Goa'uld queen with a strange sort of detachment. A small part of him felt pity for her plight. She was under the control of a parasitic invader and thus wasn't responsible for injuring Daniel. Angrily, Jack shoved those feelings aside. If she had killed his friend, she didn't deserve his pity. Daniel would be shocked by the revenge Jack sought on his behalf, and Jack prayed his friend wasn't beyond worrying about such things. Damn it, they had to get back!
Shaking his head to snap him out of his reverie, Jack made a quick decision: Sha're was about to become a guest of the SGC. Years of military training gave Jack and Sam an edge; communicating with only the slightest of gestures, the trio approached the event horizon. Sensing her fate, Sha're renewed her fight as they stepped closer to the 'gate, forcing Jack to join Sam's efforts to control her. The Goa'uld's superior strength almost pulled them away from the safety of the beckoning Stargate. O'Neill dug in his heels, dragging Sha're toward the wormhole with brute strength.
Before them, the liquid energy flickered, the rippling effect dimming as the wormhole neared deactivation. Sam noticed the energy fluctuation, turning a quick, worried gaze on her commanding officer. "The wormhole's destabilizing, sir."
"I see that." Damn, they were so close to having a live Goa'uld to study. Jack wasn't prepared to sacrifice their chance to escape Apophis' grasp for the slight advantage Amaunet's information would give them. Releasing his hold on Amaunet, Jack ordered, "Let her go, Captain."
As one, the soldiers released their hold on Daniel's wife and darted the remaining five feet to the wormhole's edge. Mere seconds after they entered, the wormhole sputtered, then dissolved.
Jack burst through the event horizon and onto the ramp, months of practice helping him to gracefully regain his balance after the abrupt landing. The ramp shook as Sam's feet connected with the hard metal surface a moment after his.
General Hammond met the travelers at the bottom, his expression one of grave concern. "Teal'c has taken Dr. Jackson to the infirmary."
The news hit Jack like a sledgehammer. Air whooshed from his lungs in a surprised gasp, "He's still alive?"
Hammond smiled briefly, understanding O'Neill's concern. The colonel hadn't known whether his teammate had survived the trip through the wormhole. "Yes, Colonel, he is."
Jack nodded acknowledgment, looking pointedly toward the entrance to the embarkation room. "Permission to -- ?"
Hammond cut him off. "By all means. We'll debrief after we determine Dr. Jackson's situation."
Smiling gratefully at his commanding officer, Jack hurried from the embarkation room, Carter at his heels.
On the way to the medical facility, Jack realized it wasn't very dignified for a man of his rank to be running hell-bent-for-leather down the hall, but right now he didn't care. Daniel's life was hanging by a fragile thread, and protocol be damned. He needed to find out how he was doing.
Bursting through the infirmary doors, Jack skidded to a halt, Carter almost plowing into the wide back that stopped abruptly in front of her.
Off to one side, the Jaffa stood ramrod straight against the wall, his expression stoic. Teal'c greeted their appearance with a short nod. "Colonel O'Neill. Captain Carter." Despite the stony demeanor, Jack could easily read the worry in the dark eyes.
"How is he, Teal'c?"
"Dr. Frasier is concerned." Typical Teal'c. Short, sweet, and to the point.
Alerted by Frasier's voice, Jack turned to watch the hurried movement around the small table. Daniel was surrounded by medical personnel, completely hidden from his friends' view. Jack was not reassured by the flurry of activity around the younger man. Sighing worriedly, he resigned himself to wait for news.
Minutes stretched into hours as SG-1 waited for word on their teammate's condition. Frasier had ordered them from the infirmary after Daniel had taken an abrupt turn for the worse; reluctantly, the three remaining team members had retreated from the room and gathered in the stark hallway outside of the medical facility.
Looking like he desperately wanted to hit something, Jack paced the confines of the small corridor. He'd never been good at waiting, and keeping this kind of vigil didn't sit well with his take-charge personality. No one would ever accuse Jack O'Neill of having an overabundance of patience, and waiting taxed what little self-restraint he possessed.
Sam watched as Jack's quick strides took him to the end of the hall, then back again. Biting her lip, unsure if her words would be welcome, Sam said, "Sir, he's going to be okay. You're just going to tire yourself out by pacing like this."
Jack shot her a glare, but didn't stop his wanderings. Sam's quiet plea for him to relax had done little to soothe his fears; Daniel could be dying for all he knew, and he wasn't there for the kid. Just like he hadn't been there to save him from the Goa'uld attack in the first place. Never mind that it was Daniel who had caused the trouble by challenging Apophis. Jack's guilt couldn't be assuaged by facts; he was the team leader and as such was solely responsible for getting his team home alive and in one piece. Failure gnawed at his gut, souring his stomach. He took a sip of cold coffee, trying to rid himself of the bitter taste in his mouth.
The waiting room door abruptly opened and a corpsman stepped into the corridor, snapping to attention and saluting O'Neill. "Sir, Dr. Frasier requests your presence."
Thankful for the interruption of his gloomy reverie, Jack half-heartedly returned the salute as he bolted past the young enlisted man. "Thank you, airman." Sam and Teal'c were on his heels as he hurried into the infrimary.
Frasier looked up from the chart she was reading as SG-1 burst through the doors. She stepped away from the foot of Daniel's bed, her doctor's mask slipping into place as she approached the team.
"Doctor." The formal tone couldn't mask Jack's concern.
Frasier's greeting was equally solemn. "Colonel." She nodded at Teal'c and Sam.
Suddenly tired of this forced politeness, Jack demanded, "How is he?"
Frasier sighed, brushing an errant lock of hair from her face with a delicate hand. "It's not good. Dr. Jackson has been severely traumatized by this -- weapon."
Sam's face paled at the no-nonsense admission. "Is he -- is he going to make it?"
The petite doctor's mouth tightened into a grim line. "It's too soon to tell. I've got him on a respirator to assist his breathing. His brain is swelling from the trauma; we're monitoring that situation very closely. If it continues, we'll have to relieve some of the pressure. Otherwise, he could suffer permanent brain damage."
Jaw tight with tension, Jack qualified, "If he survives."
Frasier nodded confirmation. "If he survives."
"Can we see him, Doc?"
"Yes, but one at a time, and only for a few moments."
Nodding dumbly, Jack stepped past the doctor and approached the narrow table where Daniel lay. The colonel paused, looking down at the pale, bruised face of his friend. As he watched, a small trickle of crimson seeped from the corner of Daniel's left eye. A nurse gently dabbed at it with a gauze square.
"What the hell...?"
"The pressure in his head is causing blood vessels to rupture, Colonel," Frasier explained, appearing at Jack's elbow. "The closest comparison to his injury is a severe skull fracture but without the blunt-force trauma. I've never come across anything remotely like it."
His mouth suddenly too dry to speak, Jack nodded his acknowledgment of the doctor's diagnosis. O'Neill reached out and placed his hand on the archaeologist's shoulder, squeezing lightly, praying Daniel could feel the contact and know he wasn't alone. 'Damn it, Daniel, you just had to listen to your heart and not your head, didn't you?'
Frasier allowed the colonel a minute with his friend before interrupting. "After you, Sam and Teal'c have had a chance to see Daniel, we're going to move him to a more comfortable bed. I suggest you use that time to get cleaned up. General Hammond would like to debrief as soon as possible."
"Right." Jack looked down at Janet, his eyes dark with worry, before turning back to his friend. He leaned in close to Daniel's ear, whispering softly, "Hang on, Daniel. Don't give up. We'll be back to check on you in a little while." With a final firm squeeze on the slim shoulder, Jack straightened. Squaring his shoulders, he gave a short nod to his teammates and quickly stalked out of the infirmary. Sam and Teal'c stared after the retreating figure in shocked silence.
Hours turned to days as SG-1 and the base's medical personnel watched and waited for signs of Daniel's recovery. Despite the seriousness of the injury, the young scientist clung to life with a tenacity that never failed to amaze O'Neill. The colonel had become a permanent fixture in the infirmary, spending every waking moment parked in an uncomfortable chair at Daniel's bedside, talking to his friend. Frasier had long since given up attempting to shoo the man away from the medical facility, instead had a cot brought in so the colonel could sleep in the same room when he finally succumbed to exhaustion.
Carter and Teal'c were regular visitors, too, but they didn't have the dedication that Jack did. Both were impressed by the colonel's loyalty to his injured teammate. The bond of friendship was strong among the team members, but no one had suspected how strong it was between the colonel and the clumsy archaeologist.
Truth was, Jack's burden of guilt prevented him from leaving Daniel's side. He couldn't be there to prevent the kid from getting hurt, but he'd be damned if he was going to leave him now, not with the chance Daniel would wake up and find himself alone without his team there to reassure him all was well. So, he resigned himself to sit vigil at the young man's side. Jack knew Daniel was going to wake up. He refused to consider any other possibility.
Soft sounds slowly wormed their way through the darkness enveloping him, sending disturbing echoes through his brain like ripples on the surface of a pond. With sound came consciousness, a slow, creeping awareness of light and warmth and pain, always pain. Pain that gradually diminished each time he fought his way up from the darkness. Forcing his eyes open, Daniel listened to the quiet clicks and beeps from the medical equipment surrounding the bed. The soft, rhythmic sounds almost lulled him to sleep, but he stubbornly fought against the urge to close his eyes once more. Blinking against the dim overhead light, he turned an out-of-focus gaze on the vague figure sitting beside him.
As his vision cleared, Daniel realized the last person on Earth -- or on Abydos, for that matter -- he expected to see was planted in an uncomfortable chair beside his bed. From the five o'clock shadow on his face and dark circles under his eyes, it appeared he had been sitting there for some time. Daniel swallowed against the dryness in his throat, croaking, "J-jack?"
Brown eyes snapped up from the book they were reading, searching out the source of the weak call. Jack's wide smile was genuinely relieved as Daniel recognized him. Perhaps Dr. Frasier's concerns about brain damage were only that, concerns. "Hey, Daniel. Welcome back."
In a soft, breathless voice, Daniel questioned, "Jack, what happened?"
"You had a run-in with the neighborhood bully. You lost."
"Ugh, I can tell. How long -- ?"
Leaning forward, Jack rested his hand on the closest arm, patting lightly in reassurance. "Almost two weeks, Danny."
"T-two weeks?" the archaeologist squeaked. Jack nodded confirmation, smiling at the shocked expression clouding his friend's features. Daniel's eyes left Jack's face, sweeping over the unfamiliar surroundings. Turning his gaze back to the man beside him, Daniel asked, "I'm not on Abydos, am I?"
Blood drained from Jack's face, leaving it almost as pale as Daniel's. "No. You're on Earth."
Brows drawing together in confusion, Daniel looked around the room once more. "At Cheyenne Mountain?" Jack nodded his reply. "How did I get here? Did you come back to visit?"
Shocked by the puzzling questions, Jack stammered, "Uh, yeah, something like that. Listen, Daniel, I'm going to tell the Doc you're awake. Don't go anywhere, okay?"
Smiling faintly at the remark, Daniel allowed his eyes to shut. Yeah, like he had the strength to lift his head, never mind get out of bed. He allowed himself to drift, listening to the medical equipment as it monitored his condition. The soothing sounds lulled him back into a light doze as he waited for his friend to return.
"Daniel?" An insistent female voice intruded into his sleep. "Daniel, wake up."
Sleepily obeying the commanding tone, Daniel opened his eyes and blinked, gazing up at the doctor's beaming face.
"Hello," the woman greeted, smiling warmly at her patient.
Frowning in puzzlement, Daniel glanced at Jack then looked back at the woman. His eyes dropped to her name tag; squinting, he made out the letters printed on the small plastic rectangle. "Dr. . . . Frasier?"
"That's right. I'm Dr. Janet Frasier. Do you remember me, Daniel?"
Blue eyes sought Jack's for a moment before regarding the doctor once more. "Should I?"
"Yes, you should. I'm the lucky lady who gets to patch you up every time you come back from a mission," Frasier informed him, her tone light, not wanting to upset her patient.
Daniel absorbed the implications of her statement, his eyebrows rising. "When I come back from a mission . . . " he murmured. "What kind of mission? Jack, what's going on? Where's Sha're? Is she all right?"
Jack and Janet exchanged worried glances. "Daniel, it appears you've lost your memory. You've had a traumatic head injury, and memory loss is quite a common occurrence during recovery," Janet soothed.
"Oh." Daniel gnawed on his bottom lip; his face still sported faded blotches of colour, the bruises accentuating his vulnerable appearance. "How much time have I lost?"
The doctor glanced at Jack; the colonel shrugged, deferring the matter back to her practiced medical opinion. Janet cleared her throat against the uncomfortable silence. "Well, right now I'd say you lost almost a year." At Daniel's alarmed look, she quickly continued, "That doesn't mean you won't get your memory back or at least retrieve a good portion of it. Daniel, we don't know much about the Goa'uld device that did this to you. We're pretty much in the dark as to its aftereffects."
"So you're saying you don't know what's wrong with me or how long I'll be laid up?"
Janet tried her best comforting smile. "That's it in a nutshell."
"Look on the bright side, Daniel," Jack jumped in, a forced cheerfulness in his voice. "You're alive. That's something, isn't it?"
Fatigue etching lines into his face, the younger man nodded slightly. "I guess so."
Frasier noticed the sudden weariness. "Try and get some rest. I'll have an orderly bring you something to eat in a while. All right?"
Daniel's gaze swept to Jack. The colonel read the underlying panic in the blue depths and he smiled his head in reassurance. "Get some sleep, Danny."
Yawning, Daniel nodded, his eyelids drooping shut as he followed the doctor's advice.
Janet and Jack tiptoed from the room and shut the door behind them, leaving Daniel to rest.
"So?" Jack asked, turning a questioning gaze on the petite woman.
"I don't know what to tell you. The memory loss isn't unexpected, but the extent of it has me a little concerned," Frasier admitted slowly.
Jack couldn't keep the worry out of his voice. "How so?"
"It's common with head injuries for there to be some memory loss, usually the time just before the injury and the events leading up to it. He's lost a year of his life, Colonel. I just don't know what else to expect from the Goa'uld device."
"Meaning I can't tell you if he'll ever get that year back or if it's gone for good," Frasier sighed. She glanced at her watch. "If you'll excuse me, sir? I have rounds."
Jack smiled, gesturing his dismissal with a casual wave of his hand. "Have fun."
Janet returned the smile, heading off to see her other patients, leaving Jack staring contemplatively at the closed door to Daniel's room. Perhaps Daniel's memory loss was a blessing in disguise. If he didn't remember what happened, he wouldn't know it was his own wife who tried to kill him.
Stretching, Jack worked the kinks out of stiff muscles, hearing the satisfying crack of his joints as the movement relieved some of the tension in his lower back. He was looking forward to going on a mission through the 'gate instead of sitting cooped up in the infirmary. Not that he begrudged Daniel his time, especially when the archaeologist obviously needed him, but Jack's military nature chafed at such enforced confinement. Now that Daniel was conscious and out of danger, Hammond was waiting for a temporary replacement to complete SG-1 before he allowed the rest of the team to go back out. Jack glanced up from the magazine he held in his lap, smiling fondly at the young man curled up on his side, sleeping.
Jack's contentment was marred by the faint mumble of words coming from the bed's occupant. The archaeologist was fighting a slight fever, his sleep restless, interrupted by vague, disturbing dreams. Janet assured Jack nothing was amiss; in fact, the doctor was certain that the dreams were Daniel's memories trying to fight their way back after the assault from the ribbon device. Jack fervently hoped she was right.
"P2S-591!" Daniel jerked awake without warning, his wide, startled eyes searching out the colonel's as awareness returned.
Leaning close, Jack reached out and patted the nearest arm. "Dreaming, Danny-boy?" he teased lightly, seeing his teammate's distress at the abrupt awakening.
Daniel looked at his friend. "Uh . . . yeah, I guess so." He scrubbed his stubbly face with one hand, trying to sort out the vague remnants of the vision.
"What were you dreaming about?" Jack patiently asked.
"Um . . . a planet. P2S-591."
"So I guess you're getting your memory back." Not a question but a quiet statement of fact. Daniel nodded his head, nervously chewing on his lower lip as he contemplated Jack's comment. When Jack didn't get a reply, he hinted, "P2 . . . uh, P2 . . ."
"P2S-591," Daniel prompted.
Jack waved his hand dismissively. "Yeah, whatever. That's a planetary designation. Do you remember it?"
A thoughtful expression replaced the alarmed one as Daniel considered the string of letters and numbers. Hesitantly, he began, "I think so. Desert planet, uninhabited. No artifacts of any kind. We decided it hadn't been settled by the Goa'uld . . ."
"Ding, ding, ding. Give the man a prize!" Jack's smile widened. "Welcome back, Dr. Daniel Jackson."
A shy smile crossed Daniel's face at Jack's enthusiastic response. "Did you miss me or something, Jack?"
"Something like that," Jack muttered. Struggling to escape from the awkward moment, Jack checked his watch. "Whoa, look at the time. I'd better go and . . . um . . . see what Carter is up to."
Rising from his chair, O'Neill flashed a quick, embarrassed grin before fleeing the small room. Daniel smiled again, then closed his eyes and settled back to sleep.
"Daniel. Come on, Daniel, time to open your eyes."
Feigning sleep, Daniel hoped he could fool Jack so his friend would leave the room. 'God, Jack, just go away.' With his returning memories came disturbing nightmares, intense snatches of images and feelings which left him in a decidedly foul mood. Add the fact that SG-1 was back on active duty as of a week ago, and he couldn't help but feel angry. Once again he was left behind. He wanted nothing more than to be left alone until these feelings sorted themselves out, but it appeared Jack had other plans.
Jack sensed rather than saw his teammate was awake. He leaned in close. "You can't hide from me, ya know. I know you're in there."
"What do you want, Jack?" Blue eyes snapped open and fixed a glare on his antagonizer.
Taken aback by the sharp tone, Jack stared for a moment before regaining his composure. "I -- I just wanted to see how you were before we left on our next mission."
"You're going out again without me?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Daniel regretted them. Of course they would go without him. They'd already been on stand down for a couple of weeks while he'd been in the worst condition. Jack had demanded and received the time off to let his team rest and recoup from the shock of almost losing their teammate. Once it was determined Daniel would recover, Hammond couldn't allow his best team to be idle. Not with all those worlds to explore and new technology to discover. No, Daniel's slow recovery wouldn't prevent SG-1 from going out on missions.
Glancing into his friend's concerned face, Daniel sighed. "Sorry. That was uncalled for. I've been in a bad mood since I woke up."
"I can tell," Jack teased, glad that Daniel was slowly regaining his equilibrium. "How're you feeling?"
The archaeologist shrugged. "Better, I guess."
"You guess? You're not sure?" Jack asked, bemusement in his voice.
"I'm feeling a little off today," Daniel replied around a yawn. "'m just tired."
The colonel glanced up at the clock over his friend's bed. "I have to head out. We're leaving in fifteen minutes. Take it easy until I get back, okay?"
Daniel frowned petulantly. "Like I have a choice. Janet won't even let me think about doing anything but taking it easy."
Jack nodded sagely. "And I second the motion. You need to rest if you want to get back to work."
Daniel smiled slightly at Jack's overprotective attitude. "When did you become a mother hen?"
"When I discovered I had teammates who need a mother hen for a commanding officer," Jack grinned. His hand shot up and ruffled Daniel's long hair. "Don't give the doc any grief, Daniel. See you in a few days."
"Be careful out there, Jack."
Jack's grin widened. "Always." He slipped away, heading for the embarkation room and his waiting team as Daniel closed his eyes once more and allowed healing sleep to take him.
When he woke several hours later, Daniel's head was pounding, his blood rushing through his veins at a breakneck pace. Realizing something was very, very wrong, Daniel struggled to sit up, clumsily swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He pushed himself off, almost falling as his knees buckled slightly but finally managed to keep his legs under him. Struggling toward the door, Daniel stumbled out of his room in search of help.
Catching movement in her peripheral vision, Frasier glanced up from the stack of paperwork on her desk to see a very pale archaeologist lurching his way out of his room.
"Daniel?" Dr. Frasier crossed the infirmary, taking the young man's arm in a steadying grip. "What's wrong?"
Blinking against the suddenly too-bright overhead lights, Daniel admitted, "I don't know. It's hard to describe. I feel -- I don't know -- odd."
Frasier tugged gently on the arm in her grasp, steering her patient toward the examination table. Settling him onto the narrow table, she asked, "Odd, how?"
"My head -- it hurts," Daniel ground out between clenched teeth.
"Okay, lie down and let me have a look at you," Frasier instructed, slipping one arm around the young man's shoulders and lying him back against the table. Daniel winced, his hands coming up to rub lightly at his throbbing temples.
"Easy, now. Let me have a look." Frasier switched on her penlight, bringing it up to shine on his face. Daniel flinched as the bright light assaulted his eyes.
Janet snapped the light away then cautiously brought it up once more. Again, Daniel flinched at the searing pain shooting through his head when the light drew near. "Sorry, Daniel. I won't do it again," Frasier promised, shutting off the small light.
"Good," Daniel gasped, trying hard to focus his blurry vision on the woman standing at his shoulder. "Janet -- what's happening?"
"I don't know. I'm going to run some tests on you, okay? Take it easy."
Frasier motioned for a couple of orderlies to join her. Daniel vaguely saw the others approach, but her words to her staff were muffled through the cotton wool settling over his mind.
Pain and pressure built in his skull as memories assaulted him. He moaned, tossing his head as visions of Sha're danced before his eyes. His beautiful wife was smiling at him one moment; the next her expression was hard and unforgiving, so unlike the sweet, gentle woman he married. This Sha're taunted him with her cruelty, enjoying the pain she caused him as she brought the ribbon device toward his face.
"No!" Daniel yelled, throwing his hands up to ward off the memory. "Sha're, no . . ."
Gentle hands grasped his arms, lowering them to his sides. Frasier's voice murmured in his ear, "Daniel, what is it? What's happening?"
Breath coming in harsh, rapid gasps, Daniel tried to answer the doctor's query, but the sharp, throbbing pain in his head made the task difficult.
"Sha're . . . she's killing me . . ." Daniel whispered, short of breath and obviously hurting.
"What?" Frasier questioned in alarm. Turning to her staff, she barked, "Check his vitals!"
"Doctor, his pressure's through the roof !"
"Pulse is racing, respirations shallow . . ."
"Please . . . Janet . . . make it stop . . ." Daniel moaned, hands fisted at his sides as another wave of pain washed over him.
Frasier glanced at the monitors, assessing her patient's condition with a critical eye. "Hang on, Daniel. We're going to get you through this."
"Please . . . make it . . . stop . . ." Before Frasier could answer, Daniel's eyes rolled back, and he slipped into the welcoming arms of oblivion.
The wormhole destabilized, the bright, blue white light vanished, leaving the embarkation room dimly lit with the glow of the overhead fluorescent lights. Jack and his team met General Hammond at the bottom of the ramp. SGC's commanding officer was pleased to see SG-1 had made it back unscathed despite the addition of the new and relatively inexperienced anthropologist who'd replaced Daniel.
"Colonel?" Hammond greeted.
"It went well, sir. We didn't find any signs of the Goa'uld."
Hammond smiled. "We'll debrief in ten minutes. Dismissed."
Nodding, Jack followed his teammates from the embarkation room.
Freshly showered and shaved after his debriefing, a still slightly damp O'Neill made his way to the infirmary, whistling a few bars of an old tune as he walked into the medical facility. "Hey, Doc. How's my favorite scientist doing?"
Frasier looked up from the chart she was reading, smiling at the cheerful but tired expression on the colonel's face. "Well, I have some good news. Daniel is remembering more about what happened to him."
Jack heard the unspoken concern in the doctor's voice. "And the bad news is?"
"He's had a few blackouts. As near as we can figure, it's some sort of after-effect of the attack."
"So what does this mean, exactly?" Jack asked, impatient with the scientific gobble-de-gook.
"Your guess is as good as mine. So far, the blackouts have been few and far between, but each time he wakes up, he seems to be able to remember more."
Jack took a moment to absorb this information, finally meeting the doctor's concerned gaze. "Does he remember it was Sha're who attacked him?" Frasier nodded once. "Damn. How's he taking it?"
"He's depressed." Frasier sighed, one hand toying with the pages of the chart she clutched tightly to her chest. "I'm worried about him, Colonel. When he's not sleeping, he stares off into space and hardly responds to us."
"He's lost his appetite. If it continues, I'm going to have to put him back on an IV to keep him hydrated and get some nourishment into him."
"Damn. When did this start?"
"The blackouts started a couple of hours after you left. The depression started shortly after the first blackout."
Guilt washed over Jack with tidal wave force. While he'd been off world playing soldier, Daniel was fighting the effects of the Goa'uld weapon. The kid had suffered alone . . . again.
Jack's voice was weary as he asked, "Is he awake now?"
Frasier nodded. "He was a few minutes ago when I checked on him."
Jack ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. "All right, Doc. I'll go talk to him."
When Jack made his way into the small, somewhat secluded room off the infirmary, Daniel was sitting on the edge of the bed, his back to the door. The slumped shoulders and bowed head were a clear indication of his young friend's mental state. Jack's guilt surged, threatening to drown him in despair.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Jack announced, "Knock, knock."
Daniel didn't move from his perch. "It's open."
O'Neill stepped into the room and crossed to the end of the bed. "Hey, Daniel. Good to see you awake. How're you doing?"
The archaeologist turned his head, looking at his friend for a brief moment then returned his gaze to the blanket clutched tightly in his hands. "I'm all right, Jack."
"Glad to hear it." Jack settled into the room's only chair with a weary huff. "We just finished debriefing. I came down here as soon as I could."
The archaeologist shrugged, his manner indifferent. "How was P3G-503?"
Jack swallowed his shock at the lethargic response. Mustering a grin, he supplied, "Boring. Nothing to see but trees, trees, and more trees. No inhabitants, past or present, that we could find."
Daniel nodded absently. "How was Dr. Morgan?"
Jack winced, his pained expression clearly showing his opinion of Daniel's temporary replacement. "He has all the personality of a pet rock."
"But he's good at what he does," Daniel defended his colleague.
"He may be good at what he does, but he's not in your league, Daniel. He doesn't have your passion."
Daniel nodded in vague acceptance of the roundabout compliment. Fidgeting, he picked at the edge of the blanket where the ribbon binding had come loose. "She tried to kill me, Jack."
The statement caught O'Neill completely off guard. "What? Who?"
"Sha're. She -- she told me nothing of the host survives, then she turned that -- that thing, that weapon, on me.
Relief at Daniel's returning good health, and thus the retrieval of his memory, warred with compassion. The knowledge that his own wife had tried to kill him would shake the gentle scientist to the core. Gently, Jack prompted the younger man to talk. "Your memories have come back."
The younger man nodded again. "Some of them," he qualified. He glanced at his friend, quickly ducking his head when he saw the compassion on the older man's face. "You've been gone for two days. I've had a lot of time to sit and think."
Jack winced, pained by the reminder of how long he'd been away. "How much do you remember about what happened?"
"Only bits and pieces. I remember talking to Apophis and Sha're . . . God, Jack, I thought she loved me as much as I love her."
Jack's jaw dropped at the desperate hurt in Daniel's voice. "It wasn't Sha're, Danny. You know she had no choice. It was her Goa'uld that tried to hurt you, not her."
"I won't ever get her back, will I?" The soft catch in Daniel's voice revealed how difficult it was to admit the possibility of losing his life's companion forever.
Jack felt his throat constrict at the betrayed expression on the younger man's face. In a husky voice, he soothed, "Hey, you have to have faith."
"How can you say that? How can I have faith? You didn't see her eyes, Jack. They were so cold, so alien..." Daniel's voice abruptly trailed off and he swallowed hard, averting his gaze to study his fisted hands.
Cautiously, unsure if the overture would be welcome, the colonel rose from the hard plastic chair and crossed to the bed, settling onto the firm mattress beside his friend. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, Jack could feel Daniel's trembling as his weakened body reacted to the shock of his memories.
Whether it was extreme exhaustion or a soul-deep emotional pain making his friend respond so strongly, Jack couldn't tell, but he did the only thing he could think of: he gathered Daniel against him, strong arms enveloping the shaking form in a protective shelter of comfort. Daniel fought weakly against the confining hold, but Jack wouldn't release his grip, sensing how much the younger man needed the physical touch to ease his pain.
"Easy, Danny. Don't fight it," Jack soothed. "I'm here for you, big guy."
As the meaning of the gentle words sunk it, Daniel allowed his head to drop to Jack's shoulder. With a sudden, quivering sob, tears spilled down bruised cheeks, soaking into the material of Jack's shirt.
Softly rocking Daniel like he had Charlie when his son was young, Jack rubbed his friend's back, allowing him the release of his tears. Jack felt his own eyes mist over; he couldn't begin to comprehend the depth of pain Daniel felt, knowing the one person in his life who meant everything to him had tried to kill him. The feeling of betrayal, of loss and longing, was evident in the young man's eyes and in the way his arms now reached around Jack's middle and held tight.
Finally, the wracking sobs eased, replaced by soft, quivering breaths. Jack carefully pushed his friend back onto the bed, tugging the blanket from his waist and pulling it up around Daniel's shoulders. "Get some sleep. I'll be here when you wake."
Sniffling, Daniel studied the man beside him. "Thanks, Jack."
"Anytime, Danny. Now go on, close your eyes."
For once, Daniel didn't argue. He closed his eyes, slipping into an exhausted slumber. Jack, true to his word, stayed at his friend's side until he woke up again hours later.
Leaning against the door, Jack watched with an amused grin as Daniel picked disinterestedly at the hospital food.
"If you eat all your veggies, I'll let you have dessert," Jack promised, holding up the chocolate bar he'd brought as a peace offering.
"Right now, even chocolate couldn't tempt me into eating all this," Daniel commented, waving the fork over the bland mixed vegetables overflowing onto the plastic tray.
"You have to eat to get your strength back."
"I know. It's just so . . . boring."
O'Neill grinned. "I have it on good authority: hospital food is supposed to be boring. It's to keep you from wanting to come back for more."
"No worries there." Daniel wrinkled his nose, digging into the pile of vegetables and taking a tentative bite. Despite his lack of enthusiasm about the food, he found he was quite hungry.
Watching his friend tackle lunch, Jack made his decision. It was time to clear the air between them. He lowered himself into the chair, his back stiff with tension. "Daniel, there's something you need to know."
The grave tone in Jack's voice stopped Daniel mid-bite. He lowered his fork, his hunger briefly forgotten as he gave his friend his full attention. "What is it?"
Clasping his hands together in front of him, Jack cleared his throat. "When we took you back to the Stargate after you'd been injured, we had Sha're with us."
Blue eyes widened in shock. "Where is she? Jack, you didn't hand her over to Maybourne, did you?"
"No, no, Daniel. I didn't give her to Maybourne," he soothed. "She isn't on Earth. Her Goa'uld didn't particularly want to come for a visit so we had to leave her behind."
"The wormhole was destabilizing, and I made the decision to let her go so Carter and I could escape," Jack explained solemnly.
Daniel was floored by the admission. "You mean to tell me you had her, and you just let her go?" he demanded.
Jack bit back a sharp retort. How could he make Daniel see he'd had no choice? "She was fighting us, Daniel. Carter and I could barely hold our positions, and the wormhole was starting to destabilize . . ."
"So you let her go." Daniel's flat inflection voiced his betrayal.
"So we let her go," Jack confirmed. "I made the decision, Daniel. Your safety, your life, was more important than bring Sha're home. I had to know that you were okay."
Daniel refused to give absolution. "You made me a promise, Jack."
Stung by the reminder, Jack nodded. "I know I did, Daniel. And the promise still holds."
Not meeting his gaze, Daniel nodded dismissively, too stunned by the confession to consider forgiveness.
Jack rose to his feet, pausing to smile sadly at his young friend. Carefully placing the chocolate bar on the tray, he whispered, "I hope one day you'll understand." Walking out of the room, Jack pulled the door shut behind him.
It was another two weeks before Dr. Frasier finally cleared Daniel for duty. His blackouts had abruptly quit, stopping just as suddenly as they began. After running a myriad of tests, Frasier couldn't find any reason to keep the archaeologist on base. Hammond scheduled them for a mission the next day, relieved to get the stir-crazy scientist off his base and back to work where he belonged.
"Hey, Daniel. How're you doing?" Jack called out as he strode into the embarkation room.
Daniel looked up from the stubborn strap on his backpack, his face lighting with a genuine smile as he saw the team leader. "Hi, Jack. I'm okay."
"Are you?" The underlying concern in Jack's voice was unmistakable.
Daniel nodded reassuringly, shouldering his pack. "I am."
Jack grinned. "Good. 'Bout ready to go?"
"Yeah. I've really been looking forward to this."
Jack grinned. "So has the rest of the base. You've been driving everybody crazy."
Daniel glanced at the colonel, his expression mischievous. "I have not."
"Have too." Jack smiled as the familiar exchange began.
The playful sparring match was cut off by the familiar kawoosh of the Stargate. Daniel watched in awe as the wormhole stabilized, the event horizon settling into the confines of the dull, metal ring.
His face awash with the blue glow of the activated Stargate, Daniel smiled again as Jack came to stand beside him on the metal ramp. "I -- I've been doing a lot of thinking, Jack. You made the right decision," he said softly, for O'Neill's ears only.
Feeling the lump of despair vanish from his chest, the colonel leaned in close to his friend, his hand reaching up to grasp Daniel's slim shoulder.
"We'll find her, Daniel. We'll get her back."
A brief shadow of doubt flickered across the younger man's expressive face. Will it be Sha're they bring back? Will they be able to free his wife from the Goa'uld inhabiting her?
Daniel tilted his head, noticing O'Neill watching him closely. The promise in the colonel's gaze spoke volumes. Jack nodded as he accepted the burden of the unspoken pact between them.
Daniel's face lit with a smile. "I know we will, Jack. I have faith."
"That's my boy," the colonel murmured. Smiling, Jack turned to the rest of his team and gestured for them to follow. "Let's go, campers. The 'gate's awaiting."
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